Updated: February 6, 2012
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Once Roy Ahmaogak decided to report three gray whales trapped in the ice near Barrow rather than leave them to their natural fate, it was probably inevitable that their story would wind up in Hollywood.
What's amazing is that it took 23 years for a film to be made.
Now that "Big Miracle" is opening - the movie is loosely based on the 1988 rescue effort in Barrow - how close is the movie to actual events?
How on earth did Greenpeace, Veco's Bill Allen and the oil giant Arco, Ted Stevens, the Soviets, the U.S. military, a chainsaw distributor, a guitar-playing whale-song singer, a couple of Minnesota ice fishermen and, most important, a brigade of Inupiat whalers all manage to find themselves on the same side, if only for a couple of brief, bizarre weeks in a bitterly cold arctic October?
I was there for part of it, feeling the walls close in with the rest of the media zoo and legions of government officials, volunteers and company reps at the Top of the World Hotel - just as the ice was closing in a few miles away at Point Barrow.
The story had something for everyone. For the participants, it was an opportunity to show how far they would go to help stranded whales, even if, in the case of the Inupiat, they hunted whales for subsistence, or, in the case of the oil industry, they might disturb whale migration with seismic testing, drilling or, worse, an oil spill.
For the public, there was real drama. Like the story of Baby Jessica, who fell down a well in Texas only the year before, there was no assurance of a happy ending. In fact, as failure followed failure and plunging temperatures signaled the approaching arctic winter, the outcome didn't look good at all.
Here's the story from my notes at the time.
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